On February 6, 2020, police reportedly clashed with students during a protest just outside the National University of Colombia (NUC) campus.
Since November 21, 2019, students, labor unions, indigenous groups, and civil society members have held a series of nation-wide anti-government protests. The protesters’ demands include more funding for public education and the dismantling of the National Police of Colombia’s anti-Riot Squad known as ESMAD. Protesters and rights groups allege that, since the protests began, ESMAD has used excessive force against the protesters, including beatings and the abusive use of “less-than-lethal” weapons.
On February 6, students held a protest just outside NUC. What occurred before ESMAD arrived is unclear, but some sources report that students began throwing rocks at police. Upon their arrival, ESMAD reportedly fired tear gas and rubber bullets at students, as the violence moved onto the NUC campus. In addition, ESMAD reportedly closed several highways, where students allegedly used explosives and oil to block security vehicles.
Due to the violence, NUC officials suspended all academic and administrative activities for the rest of the day.
Scholars at Risk is concerned by violence during a campus protest. While students and civil society have a right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, they have an obligation to exercise those rights peacefully and responsibly. State authorities are obligated to ensure the security of higher education communities, and to refrain from violent or disproportionate actions which endanger members of the higher education community. Such violence threatens academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society in general.